Christmas Party, Holiday Party, or NO Party | Respect In The Workplace

With December just around the corner, it is that time of year once again.

Time for the annual Christmas party...

Or the "holiday party"...

Or maybe it isn't.

More and more organizations are choosing to cancel their annual celebration because they don't view it as "inclusive"...

And this is a big mistake.


We speak with dozens of managers and HR professionals each week about their workplace culture.

Easily, the most common cultural theme mentioned centres on the concept of "inclusiveness".

"Inclusive" workplaces are those that recognize, and take into consideration, the perspectives, values, beliefs, and practices of all employees

Inclusiveness, therefore, has become synonymous with respect in the workplace.

At least in theory.

Unfortunately, some have taken this concept and distorted it in the name of "progressiveness" or "enlightenment".

They have done this by treating the workplace culture as a zero-sum game.

If you are not familiar with this term, a zero-sum game describes a situation where any new addition is offset by a reduction of equal size.

What some managers and HR teams have chosen to do is to incorporate the new and diverse beliefs of their modern day workforce at the expense of some long-standing traditional practices.

In other words, they have fallen under the false notion that inclusion of the new requires exclusion of some of the old.

One such long-standing practice falling victim to this is the company Christmas party.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing.

While different for every company based on the composition of their employees, the goal would be to hold a celebration that is representative of individual work forces...

So if a large segment of employees do not celebrate the Christmas holiday, then holding a more generic "holiday" or "seasonal" party is fine.

This decision must be made by senior management, however, and not imposed by blanketed social pressure.



In more extreme cases, this notion translates into an all-or-nothing situation...

A situation where it is decided that because the company is unable to celebrate ALL religious holidays, none will be celebrated all.

So, to be sensitive to (and include) all religious practices the company decides to exclude all socio-religious celebrations.

Inclusion just became exclusion...

And the only reason this is done is to appease the 2%ers who take offense at the mere notion of a December holiday party.

The problem with this is that these 2%ers will feel offended regardless...the party is merely an opportunity for them to express their offense.

So when management and HR give in to the 2%, the rest of the employees, the 98% who look forward to the party (whatever it is called) are harmed.

And there is indeed a better approach.


Before we look at that approach, let's first examine a leading cause of why inclusiveness has become an exercise in exclusion.

What causes the decision to be made to cancel all forms of seasonal celebration?

One answer given by those who have made this decision is empathy.

However we do not believe this is the case.

There is a big difference between being aware of the feelings of exclusion others may hold...

And actually inventing those feelings out of a misguided and misplaced sense of social responsibility.

Unfortunately, this seems to be a common occurrence among HR teams.

What we have found is that when HR decides not to hold a seasonal celebration it because they believe a portion of the employees WILL be offended.

They, with the best of intent, decide to prevent this from happening by canceling the party.

However, what they - in almost every single case we have encountered - have failed to do is actually ask those they believe will be offended IF they will indeed feel that way.

And in those few cases where their decision comes after receiving complaints, the evidence shows their decision is a reaction to only one or two complaints.

This is how the 2% works.

When we speak with employees who do not celebrate a holiday this time of year, what we typically find is that these employees are able to look past the holiday theme and see the party as a company social event.

And they look forward to it.

So, excluding the 2%, the only people who feel offended are those who feel offended on behalf of a group of employees that don't actually feel offended

Now, I am not suggesting that employees will never feel offended...

Rather, I am suggesting HR take the time to learn first hand if this offense is systemicisolated to the 2%, or non-existent before making the decision to cancel.


Now, let's also look at those who do feel offended.

To learn of their feelings without understanding the "why" behind those feelings is irresponsible.

The "why" is the most important part and will indicate if the employee is a 2%er or just showing some 2% behaviour...

Behaviour that HR can help them work through (perhaps using the lessons of Cooperative Action)

One I will share with you is the importance of being in control without being controlling.

This means, learning that each of us is in complete control of our feelings (as they are based on the perceptions we hold of the world around us)...

And that trying to improve our position by forcing others to change to accommodate us is NEVER an appropriate course of action

So, suppose an employee who doesn't celebrate this time of year feels offended.

Why? How do they perceive the party?

Are they able to change how they view the celebration? Perhaps, seeing it instead as a wonderful opportunity to socialize with coworkers and friends?

If not, why is it so important to them to have the entire event canceled?

After all, no one is forcing them to attend

If they don't want to participate, then that is their right.

Keep in mind, however, that it is their own perception of the party causing the offense they feel.

When HR learns to separate out the perspectives of the 2% (who will never be happy) and legitimate employee concerns, they can help employees neutralize the 2% behaviour without harming others.


It isn't our place, (or anyone else's) to decide if your organization should have a Christmas party, holiday party, or no party at all.

This decision is one that each individual organization must make for itself based on the composition of its employees.

However, when making this decision, it is important to:

  • Not treat employees' beliefs as a zero-sum game;
  • Not allow the perspectives of the 2% to ruin this time of year for the other 98%;
  • Take the time to ask those who may feel offended IF this will indeed be the case;
  • Reinforce to the 2% that they don't have to attend but it would be disrespectful to the 98% to cancel the celebration entirely.
  • Recognize that regardless of what the party is called, it is an opportunity to bring all employees together to celebrate a year of hard work, dedication, and commitment. 

Now...go have some fun!

Want to learn how to use the art of neutralization to create a more respectful workplace instead of creating policy and hoping people comply? Click below.